As Christmas parade fight heats up, WRAL’s floats likely to be excluded

With Raleigh’s Christmas parade just over a week away, the strained relationship between the parade’s organizer and its former sponsor seems to be getting worse.

WRAL, which sponsored and broadcasted the parade for 43 years until losing the contract this year to rival WTVD, likely won’t even get to be in the parade lineup. The Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, which puts on the parade, says WRAL missed the application deadline for floats.

Meanwhile, other parade participants have been strictly warned by the merchants association not to allow any WRAL cameras on their floats or entries.

The bad blood between the two groups began last month when WRAL announced its intentions to broadcast the parade, even without the official sponsorship. Jennifer Martin, director of the merchants association, has said that doing so sets a dangerous precedent and puts future parades at risk, potentially making it more difficult for GRMA to sell sponsorship and fund the parade.

Confusion over deadline

Steve Hammel, general manager and vice president of WRAL, said Wednesday that the station never had to apply for its floats in the past because it was the sponsor. He said WRAL’s previous contract had allowed it three entries.

The application deadline this year, according to the GRMA website, was Sept. 11. Hammel said WRAL was still negotiating with the merchants association at the time of the deadline about being the parade sponsor. The sponsorship of the parade was officially announced as WTVD’s on Oct. 23 – six weeks after the application deadline.

WRAL applied for entry on Oct. 19. On Nov. 2, WRAL requested an update on its application and was notified that it had been wait-listed for this year’s parade. Hammel said no one at GRMA ever mentioned that WRAL had failed to meet a deadline.

Martin said the wait list means the company’s two floats – the TV station’s “Coats for the Children” float and WRAL-FM radio station’s float – will only be allowed if other floats drop out of the parade. Martin said more than 50 parade entries were received after the deadline and have been wait-listed.

Hammel said WRAL is upset to miss a chance to promote one of the company’s most important causes, Coats for the Children.

“I’m disappointed that GRMA has placed us on a wait list, which has never happened in the history of the parade for us,” Hammel said. “This is not really about us – it’s about what the float represents, which is Coats For the Children. Eight thousand children are in need in Wake County, in need of the community’s assistance. For an organization that is supposed to be helping merchants, I assume they’re also trying to help unfortunate children.”

Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent company of WRAL, also owns the Durham Bulls baseball team. That is usually Capitol’s third entry in the parade: team mascot Wool E. Bull. Martin said Bull submitted his application on time and will be allowed in the parade.

No WRAL cameras on floats

In a letter this week, the merchants association warned other parade participants about letting WRAL cameras on their floats.

The group, which puts on the parade through its Shop Local Raleigh Initiative, took a hard line, telling participants: “We have been made aware that another media station in town has reached out to several of you asking if they can put cameras on your floats or entries. There is no commercial broadcasting or filming allowed by any participant. If any of your entries show up with WRAL or any other broadcast stations cameras on your float or on your entry, you will be removed from the parade immediately and will not be allowed to participate in future parades and no refunds will be given. If any station contacts you asking if they can put a camera with your entry, do not hesitate to contact us.”

A list provided to participants five days in advance of last year’s parade has rules prohibiting dressing as Santa, handing out items from moving vehicles and riding on floats while wrapped in blankets. The 2016 rules do not mention filming or photographing from floats or from walking entries.

Martin said cameras – specifically those for commercial broadcast – have never been included in the rules before because it’s never been an issue until now. Film or photos for private use is usually OK, said Martin, but commercial broadcast is another matter.

“We have ownership of the parade,” she said. “So once it starts, that’s our event, and we can manage what’s in it.”

Another casualty of the fight so far has been the parade’s usual Santa, Ron Campbell, who had to resign from the parade because he made a commercial for WRAL promoting that station’s parade broadcast. GRMA has hired a new Santa for the parade.

Rules for this year’s parade, sent out Wednesday, include this addition: “The parade has an official television broadcast partner. Only the official broadcast partner may have their cameras streaming the event live from an entry.”

Hammel said Wednesday that in the years WRAL was the sponsor, it allowed competitors in the parade and featured them on its broadcast, even when its contract with the merchants association would have allowed it to forbid them.

“We have included WTVD, WNCN, G-105, Clear Channel Radio and the Mudcats, all of which compete with Capitol Broadcasting Company entities,” he said. “Because of our commitment to our community and the holiday spirit, we looked the other way for years and would have this year as well.”

Hammel would not comment on WRAL’s specific plans for covering the parade, but said he found it “interesting and suspicious as to why GRMA is making up new rules for what should be a very festive parade.”

The 2017 Christmas parade

This year’s parade – officially branded as the 2017 ABC11/LeithCars.com Raleigh Christmas Parade presented by Shop Local Raleigh – is the 73rd in Raleigh’s history.

The Raleigh Christmas Parade always takes place on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This year’s parade takes place on Saturday, Nov. 18.

Tom Llamas, chief national correspondent and anchor of ABC News “World News Tonight” weekend editions, will ride on the ABC11 float along with local anchors and personalities.

ABC11 is also hosting a Holiday Food Drive that will be going on during the parade. Parade-goers who bring three or more cans of food will get a coupon for a free kid’s meal from Zaxby’s, with the purchase of another meal. The station also will partner with the US Postal Service to collect letters to Santa at the ABC11 Winter Village at the courthouse on Fayetteville Street. The Winter Village will also have an Elfie Selfie station, with an elf available for photos. Food donations can be dropped there as well.

The 1.4-mile parade route begins on Hillsborough Street at St. Mary’s Street and proceeds to the State Capitol, where it turns right onto Salisbury and then left on Morgan before proceeding down Fayetteville Street to Lenoir Street.

The parade, which typically attracts about 65,000 visitors to downtown, reaches up to 250,000 people over TV and online broadcasts, according to the merchants association. It will air on WTVD/ABC11 – and on WRAL – from 10 a.m. to noon.

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